Bob Lonac – Reflections on Authenticity and the Stewardship of Life and Leadership

“I think the one thing I’m good at is choosing other people who know stuff more than I do.” -Bob Lonac

[00:00:00] Bob Lonac: And the authenticity part — I believe everybody wants to run into people that have that freedom.  When you don’t have anything to hide — I think that’s what authenticity is. It’s you are you. And being you, when you start discovering it and relaxing, it is a lot easier than always thinking, what do you think?


[00:00:29] Tommy Thomas: My guest today is Bob Lonac. For people that have been regular listeners, you will remember Bob was the guest on our first episode, and I was so grateful that Bob would agree to be a guest on a podcast that never had occurred yet.

And so, thank you, Bob. We’re 126 episodes in now, so we’ve got more listeners and I trust I’ve gotten a little bit better in my interviewing skills.  Bob had a successful career. 30+ years with Young Life. And then he was on the ground level with the International Justice Mission and finished his career with Crista Ministries in the greater Seattle area.

[00:01:09] Tommy Thomas: So, Bob, welcome again to Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership.

[00:01:13] Bob Lonac: Great to be here, Tommy. So, what you’re doing, man. Thanks for all you’ve done for me.

[00:01:19] Tommy Thomas: I read your newsletter this week. Maybe go back and just refresh our listeners. You retired from Crista, and you started consulting and this newsletter is a way for you to share what you’re thinking about.

[00:01:36] Bob Lonac: Yeah, newsletters may be an old word right now in today’s world, but I always read newsletters on different things, finance whatever. And I thought, I am the kind of guy that’s always thinking about stuff. And I think one of the things I do that over time people have told me is like put ideas into a way to communicate and help people grow, including myself.

Because I’m always thinking about how can I be better and what can I do? So, I just threw out the idea of hey, you want to sign up? So, if you do want to sign up for what I do have, I’ve got several hundred subscribers. It’s free. So you just go to and you can sign up there.

[00:02:20] Tommy Thomas: I read the one this week and it had to do with giftedness and stewardship of your gifts, giftedness and honoring God with the way he created us and somehow that just that resonated with me, so I immediately got on the phone and called Bob and I said, let’s do a podcast.  Let’s discuss this.

Bob, I remember back from our first conversation. You know, you mentioned, probably midway in your career with Young Life, or maybe late there, that you read the book, What Color is Your Parachute? by Dick Bowles. And was that your first introduction into giftedness or that kind of things?

[00:02:55] Bob Lonac:  Probably, I think in most ministries and a lot of businesses there are like tests you take. Who is this person?

And what should you really do? And the parachute one was one of the first that I did read. And a guy gave it to me that was helping me through a transition.

[00:03:18] Bob Lonac: And I just got interested in that good question. Who am I? And it’s really, I think a central question to those of us who want to be followers of Christ and, Jesus said, I’ve come, you might have life more abundantly and what does that mean? What is abundance? Does that mean getting rich?  I don’t think so, but what is it and how do you understand it and how can you have more of it?

[00:03:49] Tommy Thomas: Years ago, probably 10-12 years ago now, Max Lucado, the pastor down in San Antonio was going through a, maybe struggle. That’s probably not too strong of a word on figuring out what his best giftedness was.

He was trying to be a pastor of a mega church, but his passion was really writing and speaking. And so, he came to our organization, and we took him through the assessment SIMAÓ and he reorganized his whole church staff. He got an Executive Pastor to run the thing and freed him up to do what he does best, and that’s to speak and to write. So, I think there is an element of stewardship there, of honoring God.

[00:04:30] Bob Lonac: No doubt about it. My mentor in life, theologically, was Earl Palmer, who used to speak a lot of Young Life things. Great speaker, one of the best, and just a wonderful person.

And he took me through a class on the Book of Romans with a small group. And he said this is the central understanding of the Christian faith is, what’s the gospel, chapter 1 through 8, what happened to Israel, 9 through 11. And then starting with chapter 12, therefore, present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God.

[00:05:05] Bob Lonac: And in chapter 12, the Apostle Paul talks about what are you supposed to do? Who are you supposed to be? And he says, the first three verses, are present your body as a living sacrifice. But the third one says, don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought to. And don’t think less of yourself than you ought to.

Socrates started the whole thing way back in 400 BC, right? Know Thyself. And a lot of times people ask me, I’ll say something on a subject or something that I’m talking about, and they say, how’d you know that? What’d you do? How’d you do that? I’d go, I don’t know. I just did it. It just came out of me.

[00:05:52] Bob Lonac: I think that’s what happens when you’re operating on your gifts and who you are. It’s not hard.

[00:05:59] Tommy Thomas: From your experience, and you’ve supervised countless people, what keeps people from going there?

[00:06:06] Bob Lonac: It’s exactly the same thing in chapter 12. The beginning of chapter 12 is “don’t let the world squeeze you into its own mold, but let Christ renew you from within”.

And boy, in today’s world, it’s so full of insecurities from people looking around and wanting to be. I don’t even understand all the words out there. I got ghosted. I got whatever. And how can I be, how can I be popular and all that kind of stuff. And if you’re not in your sweet spot being you.

And I do think the Bible talks about this a lot then you’re trying to fake it.

[00:06:53] Tommy Thomas: You probably know Ross Hoskins with One Hope. Ross says surround yourself with people who know you better than you know yourself, and they will tell you the truth out of love. That’s how we grow. Sounds like you’ve got a little bit of that going on in your mindset here.

[00:07:10] Bob Lonac: I think I got a lot of that going on. I have been blessed with unbelievable jobs that I, God brought me here, but whatever. And people ask me how did that happen? As a COO at International Justice Mission, I was the president, CEO of Crista, a big organization. How’d you do it?

I think the one thing I’m good at is choosing other people who know stuff more than I do.

[00:07:36] Bob Lonac: So, leadership is not about, look at me, how good I am, I can do this, let me help you do it. Leadership is about making other people successful. And that’s the biblical idea. Oh, think about Jesus in the long haul too. Like, why did he die for us? Make us like the kind of people we were created to be.


[00:08:02] Tommy Thomas: At what point at Young Life, did you get comfortable in your leadership skin? Did you acknowledge that this is how God put me together? This is what he wants me to do. And that’s who I’m going to be.

[00:08:16] Bob Lonac: I want to say that I’m still in that process.  I don’t think we get to this deal where oh, okay. Now I got it. I do understand a lot more about myself. And I do want to very much be who God wants me to be and do what God wants me to do, but it’s a lifelong process. We all are broken people. We all live in a world of sin, and it’s a lifelong process that is chiseled away.

I think the scripture says God is chiseling on me all the time to become the person he wants me to be.

[00:08:58] Tommy Thomas: Here’s a couple of quotes about authenticity. I’d like your response. There’s great power in authenticity. Arthur Wiles said, Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken. As St. Catherine of Siena put it, Be who God meant you to be and you’ll set the world on fire.

[00:09:17] Bob Lonac: In that newsletter, I said that Irenaeus in the year 300 said “the glory of God is man fully alive”. And, when you’re being you and you are in connection with God, Christ, that doesn’t mean things will go great. I’m facing some incredible personal challenges in my life right now.

[00:09:39] Bob Lonac: I didn’t get older and get better and everything got more wonderful all the time. It’s up and down all the time. If it’s not happening to you, the chiseling, it’ll happen to you tomorrow. So, it’s not easy. And the authenticity part is what everybody, I believe everybody wants to run into people that have that freedom.

When you don’t have anything to hide, I think that’s what authenticity is. It’s you are you. And being you actually, when you start discovering it and relaxing, it is a lot easier than always thinking, what do you think? Here’s a classic one. One of my grandsons, he’s in the eighth grade, he’s out helping me work in the yard. And he comes over to me and grandma, I have a great relationship with my kids and great kids. He says, grandpa, I have a question for you. What is it? Hey, I can hardly wait till I get old like you. Okay. This guy can hardly wait till I get old. I said, why? He said, then I can say no to people.

[00:10:59] Bob Lonac: And I go, oh, why do you think you can say no to people, grandpa. Yeah, I tried to do it nicely. Yeah, you shouldn’t, but you should be able to say no to people too. Oh, I don’t know. I got this opportunity to do this. I got this opportunity. These people want me to do this. You gotta be with this crowd.

And he’s really an intelligent kid doing great at school, but he’s like the world around him is trying to make him into something that he doesn’t want to be. And that’s, that was such an interesting little real-life story about that.

[00:11:38] Tommy Thomas: In your newsletter you cited four ways to help people discover and affirm their identity.  And I’m sure you probably use this in your consulting, and you probably used it when you had a staff, but can you go into that a little bit and let’s unpack those a little bit.

[00:11:55] Bob Lonac: You want to take them one by one for me?

[00:11:58] Tommy Thomas: You started with affirming your identity.

[00:12:01] Bob Lonac: Yeah, that’s you know, and there’s a lot of ways to do that. You have the Enneagram; you have all kinds of tests and other things which are really helpful. I think really helpful. And I’ve done a lot of those things. So, I think our identity has a lot to do with what kind of person you are, but your identity also must center on who you are in Christ.

What does Christ say about you and that freedom that comes from unconditional love in your relationship with him is.

[00:12:41] Tommy Thomas: Your second point, you said what lights your fire? The power of story.

[00:12:46] Bob Lonac: Yeah. What lights my fire is getting into relationships and talking to people one on one.

I was picking my wife up from getting her hair styled.  Two hours, right? So I talked to her hairstylist. Start talking to her who’s starting a new hairstyle business where she’s going to be the owner and I don’t know, she’s an easy person to talk to and I thought she’s gonna say goodbye, I got another deal. We talked for about a half hour sitting there, the two of us and my wife and I walked away from that, and it was totally fun. I was talking to her about stuff. I knew in my consulting business thing. Oh, yeah. Oh, gee, never thought about that. Thank you. And they asked me questions and I thought that’s me.

[00:13:39] Bob Lonac: That’s what I love to do. And in fact, that’s where my whole life has gone right now. I do one on one conversations with people, and I don’t mean that all in my consulting deal. That’s really important. I love doing that, but my neighbors, my people I run into, it’s just who I am and what I do. And when I do that, it’s totally fun.

[00:14:10] Tommy Thomas: When you know what lights your fire and you do it more often than not, I think that’s part of this element of stewardship of who God puts you together to be.

[00:14:19] Bob Lonac: Absolutely. Yeah.

[00:14:21] Bob Lonac: I don’t think I don’t buy that he gave you the deal of, hey, I’m going to send you to be a missionary and it’s going to be miserable, but you’re serving me.

[00:14:33] Tommy Thomas: Your third point was exploring your strengths.

[00:14:37] Bob Lonac: Yeah, I had one as a leader. I had one very simple thing, do what you do well and find other people that do what you don’t.  It’s so hard to shore up my weaknesses. And I think that’s my experience with other people and it’s miserable to try to do it, at least for me, whereas you’re working to your strengths. That’s the game.

[00:14:57] Tommy Thomas: Yeah. Your fourth point, find people who really know you and love you and invite them into the process.

[00:15:07] Bob Lonac: Speak the truth in love. I think this is, especially if you’re a leader, I have a little small group of business owners who are Christians.

It’s really hard to get people, especially if you’re the CEO or you own a small business, to tell you the truth. And it’s hard to get anybody to tell you the truth or even tell you what they think, which may not be the truth.

[00:15:35] Bob Lonac: But here’s another point, Tommy, that I could talk all day about. I don’t think mature Christians should be defensive about anything. Defensiveness is not a spiritual virtue because if you find your self-worth in your relationship with Christ and in whom he made you. You’re going to be a hard guy to offend.

[00:16:05] Tommy Thomas: What can you think back to when you got comfortable with that? When you realize that, yeah, I don’t have to fight back.

[00:16:14] Bob Lonac: Yeah, I think it’s been a lifelong process. It still is. And one of my, I don’t know if it’s a gift or some things are like this.

I don’t know if they’re a gift or a pain because I like to talk. And so, for me, like shutting up is a, what I’d say is a self-control virtue. Christ talks about, you don’t have to say that, Bob, you’re right. You know what you’re saying, but you don’t have to say that, shut up.

[00:16:46] Bob Lonac: Now right there is a battle that I’ll probably take to the grave, I think it’s always an interchange, but it’s centered and matured in, I know it is God’s work in us. It’s not performing. It’s hard to do it under your own strength. So, to me, it’s relinquishing everything to Jesus.  Nevertheless, Lord, not my will be done, but Yours.

[00:17:12] Tommy Thomas: And your last point in that section of the newsletter was to keep discovering who you are in Jesus and be you.

[00:17:21] Bob Lonac: There’s a point when, and I think it could be fairly early life when you think you discover what your talents are and what your spiritual gifts are. And I think those are two different things. Natural talents, I can’t run fast. I was a fast catcher in baseball.

I was stuck with that. I didn’t have much to do. So, whatever your natural gifts are, you got them and the spiritual ones you learn and grow as you explain, find them and then learning how to connect those two ideas with the Word of God. And this is easier, I retired four years ago, so now my consulting business, I get to control how much I work.

[00:18:03] Bob Lonac: And I’m just fascinated by the Bible. I’ve been teaching the Bible all my life, but I’m more fascinated than ever at what, what happens here, and what, did that really say that? And what does that mean? So that is, I would say my wonder and joy experience is, and then that’s sometimes what I talk to other people.

And a lot of times leadership is asking questions. People think leadership has to do with giving answers and questions, going, I, that’s what I do. A little small group thing. I’d say, hey, I read this the other day. You guys, what do you think of this? What do you think that means? We talked about that idea of the abundant life two weeks ago in our group.  What does that mean to you? Man, that thing, that’s all I asked. The rest of them went at it forever.


[00:18:53] Tommy Thomas: Interesting that I guess the private sector and maybe the secular organizations they’ve picked up on the strengths thing. I was reading an article in the Harvard Business Review.

It says a lot of professional development programs focus on the negative, what you’re doing badly and need to improve. But if you focus on the strength it provides a powerful way to grow. And then, the people at Case Western David Cooperrider and his Appreciative Inquiry expounds on what’s working well and what’s the potential there.

[00:19:26] Tommy Thomas: I guess that’s not to say you don’t work on improving things, but you probably make a lot more headway if you start with what’s going right.

[00:19:34] Bob Lonac: Yeah, I certainly believe that, but I also think that people think there’s a big difference between a nonprofit or a Christian organization and a for profit organization.

And I don’t think there’s one bit of difference. I think leadership is leadership. Leadership is explained in the Bible. The Bible is the truth of God. And when you try to figure it out yourself, you’re probably going to go down a rat hole once in a while and try to simply understand what God’s Word is and become that and count on the Lord’s involvement in your life and spend your time thinking about those kinds of things.

[00:20:24] Bob Lonac: What are you learning? Are you curious about your own relationship with God? I take guys on retreats once in a while, and the one of the questions we send them out is hey, how do you hear God? How do you hear God’s word? How do you hear God’s voice? I’ve had numerous people say, I’ve never heard God’s voice.

And I’m going, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard God’s voice that if you talk out loud to me, no, I think there’s a lot of ways to analyze how you can hear and listen to God and learn how to do that. And I’m talking to another grandson about the same thing. He thinks he wants to go into being a missionary overseas.

[00:21:10] Bob Lonac: He’s only a junior in high school. And I’m like let’s talk about that. What do you want to do? You got to listen to God. And how does that happen? And watch for open doors, walk through the open doors, do this, do that. So it’s again, this whole thing, I think Christians have wanted to put everything into a nice neat package and tell you what you shouldn’t do.

You shouldn’t smoke, shouldn’t drink, shouldn’t do this. That was my era. And then here’s what you should do. Here’s this and here’s what you don’t do.. It’s never been like that. Every time I tried that kind of approach it didn’t work. Especially if I faced my own feelings and thoughts and I love this idea that we can’t run away from sins. We must run towards something better. We have to be captured by something we really want. Somebody told me recently, you are going to get what you want. Everybody gets what they want. Now you’ve got to start thinking about that one, right? The question is, what do you really want? And if you look at the average American out there, what they really want is a good job, great kid.

[00:22:40] Bob Lonac: You could put a lot of nice things, put a lot of bad things, but the idea of a living, vital relationship with Christ. is not what they really want. They would like it, but the things you really want, you try and make happen.

[00:23:02] Tommy Thomas: Let me ask you a closing question. You’ve got a lot of time to think now that you’re retired. And as you say, you control your work schedule. What do you understand about yourself or life now that you probably didn’t understand when you walked out of Crista?

[00:23:20] Bob Lonac: Oh gosh, that’s a good question. There’s no doubt about it. Like a lot of people, I’ve been blessed with good health. I’m a high energy person. I like doing stuff. And the doing stuff is how I got my jobs, right? And I liked doing it. Nobody had to tell me to go to work.

I liked going to work. I had a great job. I thought, and I never ended for enthusiasm for the day. Be still and know that I am God. So, I am now learning another great calling in life. And it’s, and see, I don’t think that it’s a part of a natural progression. Maybe, I don’t know. For me, it’s cultivating an interior sense of peace in the ability to love others unconditionally.

[00:24:25] Bob Lonac: Love others unconditionally. I was talking to a Catholic buddy. He works in my yard. And I love talking to the guys that work in my yard. And I said, oh man, the drivers around here were crazy. I almost got in an accident. They’re crazy. And he said to me, Bob, you know what the priest told me? No matter what happens to you, you say, God bless them, help me.

I’m like, holy mackerel. See, that’s the kind of person I want to be. I want to be that kind of person. And the only way I become that person is in my own knowledge because I’m in a personal position right now of having to live most all my day in a completely loving, serving, caring relationship with my family and I don’t get much time for me now. Where do I get the energy for that? It’s easy to be the CEO. Everybody goes oh, Mr. Lonac – Oh, you’re the president of blah blah blah blah blah. If you feed off that stuff, you’re in trouble. I get to love people and I get to try and learn and experience not looking for anything from it.

The founder of Fuller Seminary came to share with me, not the founder, but what the teacher shared with me a Buddhist saying, Nishkama Karma, okay? And God’s truth is everywhere, right? Here’s the saying, do your duty to God without regard to the fruit of your labor.

You don’t do things for God for what you can get out of it.  How else can you explain the life of Jesus? Everybody says, take care of yourself. And Jesus said, let this cup pass for me, but nevertheless, Lord, not my will be done. Your will be done. That is what’s passionate in your heart is for God’s will to be done through you. No matter what, that’s how we have martyrs.

[00:27:09] Tommy Thomas: That’s how we have people that really make a difference for the world for Christ. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Bob Lonac.  Bob is someone that I never tire of talking with. Every time I read his writing or talk with him. I come away with a nugget that I can use in life. In the show notes, I will leave Bob’s contact data as well as links to his newsletter. Additionally, I will put the link to the pilot episode of this podcast where Bob was my guest.

[00:27:39] Tommy Thomas: Thank you for joining us today. If you are a first-time listener, I hope you will subscribe and become a regular. You can find links to all the episodes at our website:

[00:28:03] Tommy Thomas: If there are topics you’d like for me to explore, my email address is [email protected].  Word of mouth has been identified as the most valuable form of marketing.  Surveys tell us that consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all other forms of advertising.

[00:28:27] Tommy Thomas: If you’ve heard something today that’s worth passing on, please share it with others. You’re already helping me make something special for the next generation of nonprofit leaders. I’ll be back next week with a new episode. Until then, stay the course on our journey to help make the nonprofit sector more effective and sustainable.


“Leadership is not about, look at me. I can do this, let me help you do it. Leadership is about making other people successful.” -Bob Lonac


Links and Resources

JobfitMatters Website

Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership with Tommy Thomas

The Perfect Search – What every board needs to know about hiring their next CEO

Bob Lonac’s Website

Email Bob Lonac: [email protected] 

Pilot Episode of Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership with Bob Lonac


[email protected]

Follow Tommy on LinkedIn


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